How often have you have wondered who named the street that you live on? Or have driven or walked by Harold Street, Bybee Boulevard, or Lexington or Yukon Streets and pondered about the source of that name on the street sign.
The secrets that street names can tell you about your neighborhood often reveal the character of the people who were the early decision-makers in our communities.
Unlike today, when the ceremonial renaming of a street or park can be a major ribbon-cutting event, in the early days of our community few records were kept on how and why a name was chosen. Street-naming was left entirely to the real estate companies who created a subdivision, or the owners who platted an area and began selling lots in it for a profit.
In 1882, when the Sellwood Real Estate Company began leveling the ground and establishing lots for a new town, Sellwood, somebody had to name the streets. Following informal City of Portland practices of the time, numbered streets ran eastward, starting from the Willamette River; and named streets ran north and south. We do not know who chose the street names when Sellwood was first platted, but there did seem to be some idea of honoring Native Americans and historic figures of the American West.
Ochoco, Clatsop, Umatilla, Tenino, Tacoma, Spokane, and Nehalem Streets were the names chosen by officials of the Sellwood company to recognize some of the Northwest's Native American Tribes. And, while residents today can take pride that their community honors Native Americans as a part of Sellwood history, interestingly whomever chose the names missed a few tribes that really should have been included.
For thousands of years the people of the Kalapuyas, Upper Molallas, Clackamas, and Clowewalla tribes hunted our Inner Southeast area, and harvested berries up and down the Willamette Valley, including where the town of Sellwood was established.
Other street names of the time remind us that America loves its heroes â€“ especially those who fought in the Civil War, and those who took a part in the taming of the Americans Wild West â€“ and our streets reflect that. Marion and Harney Street are two such: Harney Street is named after General William Selby Harney; his personal history included fighting Native Americans in the Seminole Wars of 1830, and a brief stint of service during the Mexican War of 1847. In his Northwest escapades, Harney was responsible for almost starting another war against Great Britain in 1859 -- most visitors to the San Juan Islands know the story about the famous Pig War.
But, since Southeasat Portlanders may not know it, here it is. On June 15th, 1859, an American shot and killed a pig belonging to the Hudson's Bay Company. When the British authorities threatened to arrest the offender, and evict all Americans living on the island, Brigadier General William Harney was sent in to settle the matter. Instead of solving it, Harney made the situation worse -- which almost led to another war between Great Britain and the U.S. Thankfully, cooler heads prevailed â€“ the U.S. Army's General Winfield Scott was sent in by President James Buchanan to negotiate a solution, and Harney was relieved of his command! But we still have his street.
Francis Marion had a much more successful career, but nothing related to Oregon History. Francis Marion, after whom Marion Street was named, was a commander of rebel forces in South Carolina against the British and American "Loyalists" during the Revolutionary War in 1776. Marion was so creative and elusive in attacking and eluding the regiments of the English Crown that he was dubbed the "Old Swamp Fox". A street and an Oregon county are named after him.
Which brings us to Sherrett Street, south of Tacoma Street, between Clatsop and Harney. During the creation of Sellwood, what is now Sherrett Street was originally named Central Street â€“ which might have suggested that planners thought this would be where the commercial district would be established. But Umatilla, Spokane, and Harney Streets turned out to be the only three roads extending down to the east bank of the Willamette River, so as to have ships and boats land there. In 1901, eight years after the town of Sellwood was incorporated into the City of Portland, the City Council changed the name of Central Street to Sherrett. As to that choice of name, history writer and journalist Eugene E. Snyder, in his book "Portland Names and Neighborhoods", asserts that a local builder in the Brooklyn neighborhood named Daniel T. Sherrett, was the person for whom the street in Sellwood was named.
North of Nehalem Street, The City View Racetrack â€“ once a major draw for residents of Downtown Portland â€“ was declining in popularity and use, and speculators were wanting to change the dusty horse track into a new high-class residential development.
As the east side of Portland began to grow, real estate speculators and agents began to invest in property which could later be turned into subdivisions. Hundreds of subdivisions and additions still can be found inside Portland's city limits â€“ it's why streets still jog, or even inexplicably stop, in various places in Inner Southeast. Some developments were as large as the Ladd subdivision of 1891, involving 128 acres; or the Laurelhurst subdivision of 1909, which consisted of close to 400 acres.
But, north of Nehalem Street in Sellwood, most such tracts of land were small in size â€“ a few blocks or maybe an acre of two. The P.J. Martin tract, and the John Tolman, Crystal Springs, and Midway Additions were just a few of the small developments involved in the early history of what is now called Westmoreland.
Investors who owned acres of land in Southeast typically developed it for families wanting to move away from the busy life of Downtown Portland, and were looking to settle here. Once the demand for more housing was established, it was time to call in a developer and began platting lots and naming streets for the new homes to soon be built along the tract.
Naming streets after types of trees and flowers was at one time particularly popular. By 1893 the City View Park Addition (where the racetrack had been) became a nine-block subdivision which included the street names of Ash, Maple, Locust, Laurel, Cedar, Pine, Chestnut, Oak, and Park Avenue.
In 1891, East Portland and Albina were consolidated, and city officials found themselves barraged with duplicate street names. There now twelve "A" Streets, twelve "B" Streets, and twelve streets listed as "First" Street in Portland. It was a postman's nightmare, when it came to delivering the mail.
And so began the great renaming of streets in Portland! Sellwood was added to that list needing new street names in 1893, when it was annexed into the City of Portland.
By 1904 the Portland City Council resolved to get rid of all the duplicate names, and changed the streets in the City View Division. Park Street was changed to Malden, Oak to Rex, Cedar to Ogden, Maple became Glenwood, Ash was now to be called Claybourne, and Laurel became Rural Street. But the question remains, who were these streets renamed for? There are no notable patriots or other historic places that come to mind associated with these names, so we can't be much help with that.
Locust Street was changed to Bybee Boulevard â€“ named for Ella E. ByBee, who owned a small section of land on the Southeast corner of today's curve at Portland Memorial â€“ at Bybee and 13th Avenue. Pine Street was now Knapp, renamed for Richard B. Knapp and his wife Minnie, who owned a section of land nearby.
In the mid-1850's, Portland was a busy port town, and ships came and went. Many sea captains became well-known in Portland. With such influence among the businessmen and City Council members, seafaring captains like John H. Couch, William Irving, and John C. Ainsworth are now immortalized in the names of Portland streets.
George Flavel, born in Norfolk, Virginia, in 1824, became a sea captain â€“ and spent his early years in the 1840's era piloting ships up and down the Columbia and Willamette Rivers from Portland to Astoria. Captain Flavel made many voyages to the port of San Francisco, but he preferred to spend his "down time" in the Oregon coastal town of Astoria.
Captain Flavel built an elaborate Queen Anne mansion in Astoria at the corner of 8th and Duane Street. Visitors to that town can still tour the Flavel House Museum, which is owned and operated by the Clatsop County Historical Society. Apparently, someone on the City View Board of Trustees was quite impressed with Captain Flavel, inasmuch as the street once known as Chestnut in Westmoreland was changed to Flavel Street in 1886.
Southeast Portland streets named for people or places can be traced in various ways â€“ by turning through endless pages of newspapers, reviewing history books, or finding a clue in dairies left by Oregon Pioneers. Or you might try giving Kurt Miller a ring.For many years, the Miller Family has been a part of Sellwood history. As a fourth generation descendant of Henry Miller, Kurt Miller relates that his great grandfather was one of the original pioneers who traveled the Oregon Trail â€“ and he settled in Milwaukie, Oregon, after finishing the epic journey from his homeland in Germany.
Henry was hired to manage the William Meek and Henderson Luelling orchards. Five years later, Miller and his young partner Joseph H. Lambert offered to buy a section of William Meeks' investment. As both men struggled to continue the orchard's prosperity, they began thriving in the nursery business â€“ by selling seeds, bulbs, rare plants, and trees. Miller excelled, specifically, in the new floral market.
Henry's eldest son Arthur was deeded forty acres by his father, and he came to live in Sellwood at 16th and S.E. Nehalem. Eventually Miller Street was named for the family. The Miller family was very patriotic, and Arthur proceeded to name two streets just north of Mille Subdivision: Lexington, and Bidwell.
As to why he did that: The battles of Lexington and Concord were pivotal military engagements fought during the Revolutionary War against Great Britain as early as 1775. These battles marked the first exchange of gunfire in the War for Independence. Shots were fired by British soldiers, and eight militiamen went down â€“ these were small skirmishes, but they became the monumental turning point for America's future.
And as for Bidwell Street, John Bidwell will not be found in the annuals of Oregon, or in Sellwood history; he was just a figure that apparently Henry Miller admired. John was a frontiersman, politician, and a dedicated solder. As Kurt Miller reveals, Bidwell eventually settled in Chico, California â€“ the town he's credited with having founded. In 1841, he became one of the first emigrants on the California Trail, and later in life he ran for Governorship of California.
Meantime, the famous horticulturist Joseph Lambert continued his success in the 1870's. He introduced the Lambert Cherry to the Oregon Horticultural Society in 1896, and according to the Wikipedia online encyclopedia, he was a County Commissioner in Multnomah and Clackamas Counties â€“ certainly meriting the naming of a street in his honor.
The re-naming of streets wasn't always popular with residents, though, and according to the Oregonian many people vigorously objected when the city council attempted to simplify street numbering in 1913. A proposal to call all streets running east and west "Avenues" and all other roadways "Streets" was rejected by the public. Department stores, fraternal, groups, and even the Postmaster of Portland objected to any changes in the street-numbering system. Succumbing to the pressure, the Portland City Council dropped the idea of any such changes at that time.
It was not uncommon for developers to name city streets after themselves or family members. Martins Street was named after P.J. Martins, and D.W. Ellis thought his family name would fit well on a street in Westmoreland.
It's widely believed that Mitchell Street was named for John H. Mitchell, a famous U. S. Senator; and that Reedway Street was probably named for C.J. Reed, who owned a section of land here. Tolman Street was surely named for John C. Tolman.
But still a mystery to many of us is how and why the names Duke, Carlton, Yukon, Knight (which replaced the name South Street), Harold, and Insley came to be applied to these north Westmoreland streets. All we can say about those was that there wasn't any set policy as to what to name streets, and often it was done at the discretion of the city recorder to fill in a name for streets in new developments. Hopefully that person was knowledgeable in Oregon History, but maybe not; the only prominent Harold in the United States most people can think of is Harold Square in New York, so that may have been the inspiration for naming Harold Street.
The Brooklyn neighborhood was a section of East Portland favored by German and Italian Immigrants â€“ many of them hired o work at the Inman-Poulsen Lumber Mill, just north of the Ross Island Bridge. With the Southern Pacific Railroad Yard nearby, jobs there also attracted many immigrants from Europe.
So it was no surprise when landowner Louis Feurer built a subdivision on the east side of Milwaukie Avenue in 1905, just south of Powell Valley Road, called Feurers Addition. To bring a bit of his German homeland to America he proceeded to name streets after the beautiful country he came from. New arrivals enjoyed living on streets named Karl, Frankfort, Bismarck â€“ and the two named after the beautiful rivers of The Rhine and Rhone.
But when the Unites States entered war against German forces in 1917 in World War I, patriotic fervor was running high among the American people. In Portland disapproval was voiced against German names, and demands were raised that street names associated with the Rhineland be changed.
The Evening Telegram, a local Portland newspaper of the time, declared on April 2nd, 1917, that, "Streets with German names are to be renamed after old pioneers or American patriots or statesmen, according to Commissioner A.L. Barbur."
It wasn't long before city maintenance crews were out in the Brooklyn neighborhood -- renaming Frederick Street to Pershing, Karl Street to Haig, Bismarck Street to Bush, and Frankfort Street to Lafayette. Rhone and Rhine managed to retain their names. Interestingly, while Pershing was a well-respected American patriot, neither Lafayette nor Haig were Americans, but were foreign-born patriots. Mr. Bush is identified as a Brooklyn Pioneer by Eugene Snyder in his book of names, but Mr. Snyder didn't elaborate on Bush's vocation, or even reveal his first name.
Early well-known Brooklyn Pioneers like Gideon Tibbetts had no less than two streets named after him, and also one for his wife Mary. Long Street was named for Edward Long, who traveled the Oregon Trail with the Wills family; he formed a partnership with George and Jacob Wills, founders of the town of Willsburg just east of Sellwood, and he helped build the sawmill there.
It's not clear for whom Beacon Street was named, but Franklin replaced Beacon by the 1930s.
As late as 1987, Portland still didn't have a policy about naming streets. When a campaign was initiated by Bernie Foster, editor of The Skanner newspaper, and supported by City Commissioner Earl Blumenauer among others, to name a street in Portland for slain civil rights leader Martin Luther King Junior, Union Avenue eventually was chosen and renamed, and a new precedent was set.
Later, when a group demanded a downtown street be renamed for Cesar Chavez, the City Council punted -- and changed the name of S.E. 39th, surprisingly over the objections of Chavez' family, who insisted Cesar would not have wanted any street named after him.
Portland now has a city code in place dedicated entirely to the renaming of streets. The citizen process involves gathering at least 2,500 signatures, assembling a biography on the name chosen â€“ and then, as you might expect, of course paying a fee!
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